In 1870 Scottish-born Robert Forbes entered into a partnership with Jonathan Schofield in Hespeler, Ontario to operate J. Schofield & Co. – a mill to produce woollen flannels, plaids and tweeds as well as drugget carpeting. In 1874 the partners purchased the Randall, Farr & Co., a larger woollen mill on the edge of town, and in 1880 Forbes bought out Schofield and renamed his enterprise R. Forbes & Co. In 1888 the company was incorporated and Robert’s 28 year old son George took over as president and ran the company until 1928.
The new owners renamed the company Dominion Woollens and Worsteds Co. Ltd. and despite the onset of the Depression, could boast their business was the largest woollens and worsteds mill in the British Empire. They employed a third of the entire population of the town of Hespeler, and during WWII also employed hundreds of ‘mill girls’ who came from across Canada to make Canada’s wool for military uniforms. In 1959 the company went into receivership and was purchased by Silknit. Despite production being diversified to include synthetics, the business slowly went into decline. Production ceased in 1984 and two fires over the years destroyed up to two thirds of the original structure, including the oldest part of the mill that dated back to the mid 19th century.
Added April 5, 2021:
The CBC just did a story about the Mill Girls who came from Newfoundland to Hespeler to work in the mill during WWII. As well, it was recently announced that the remaining third of the mill is about to be renovated into condos, and the developer who has taken this on is known for his sensitive use of heritage structures!